The Dominoes Theory - part 2 ©JCMarion


That August of 1953, for the first time in two years The Dominoes are not the top selling performers on the Federal label. That spot goes to a new Detroit group called The Royals (soon to be renamed The Midnighters) for their record of "Get It". Later on in the month The Dominoes are the featured attraction at the 2nd Anniversary Dance hosted by Ohio radio d.j. Moondog Freed. The show plays to sellouts in Akron and Youngstown. The Dominoes head for New York and club dates at Birdland and the Bandbox. In October the Dominoes are at Operation Music, a big show held by the Pittsburgh Courier in that city honoring the poll winners in their music survey. Bass singer David McNeil left the group and was eventually replaced by Clifford Givens. Federal #1280 - "Rags To Riches" and "Don't Thank Me" is released in October and turns out to be the biggest seller of the Jackie Wilson era for the Dominoes. His take on Tony Bennett's huge pop hit of "Rags" is a proven winner among R & B fans. The record gets as high as number two on the R & B charts.The group appears with the Count Basie band at the Thanksgiving Music Festival held at DuSable High School in Chicago. A seasonal record is put out by Federal on #1281 - "Christmas In Heaven" and "Ringing In A Brand New Year". The Dominoes ring out the old year playing an engagement in Denver.
New Year's day of 1954 has The Dominoes headlining the Moondog Holiday Ball at the Akron Armory. The show also stars Little Walter and is a huge draw as thousands are turned away. Later that month the new Federal release is out - #12162 - "Until The Real Thing Comes Along" and "My Baby's 3-D". Even though Federal is pushing the new record "Rags To Riches" remains a good seller especially in the South. In March an appearance by the group in Philadelphia sets an all time attendance record for the Uptown Theater in that city. The Dominoes are the number six money making performers in all of Rhythm & Blues for the past six months. In April Federal #12178 brings together "Tootsie Roll" and "I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town" a blues tune long associated with Jimmy Witherspoon. This is followed quickly by a release on King - #1342 - "Tenderly" as Syd Nathan follows his plan to try and break the group into the pop field with standards on King while continuing to cater to the R & B crowd with the group on Federal. Alan Freed reveals plans for a huge show to be held at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field (home of the Dodgers baseball team) to star The Dominoes. This planned extravaganza is subsequently cancelled.
During the summer the group joins the band of Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams for a one nighter tour throughout the South ending up in Florida. In July King releases "Lonesome Road" / "Three Coins In The Fountain" (which is a pop hit for both The Four Aces and Frank Sinatra). That summer a dispute over royalties and creative control exists between Billy Ward and Syd Nathan with the result that Ward looks for a new record company for The Dominoes. Meanwhile the pop stylings continue on the King label. #1368 - "Little Things Mean A Lot" (the pop hit by Kitty Kallen) and "I Really Don't Want To Know" (a hit for Les Paul & Mary Ford) is out in August. The Dominoes are signed for a prestigious booking at The Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas for two weeks. In late August Jerry Blaine announces the signing of The Dominoes to his Jubilee label. Blaine will attempt to position the group as a pop music unit while keeping their R & B credentials. Meanwhile Federal continues to release sides by the group that they had previously recorded such as "Little Black Train" and "Above Jacob's Ladder" on #12193.
In October the first Jubilee record is released - "Gimme Gimme Gimme" / "Come To Me Baby" which is a total failure. The group does an interesting appearance at the Basin Street nightclub in New York in November co-starred with Gene Krupa and his combo. It is noted that lead singer Jackie Wilson is not with the group but he does return after this booking. The following February finds The Dominoes part of Irving Granz Rock 'n' Roll Jamboree in Los Angeles. Appearing with The Dominoes are The Jewels, Medallions, Shirley Gunter, Marvin & Johnny, Richard Berry & The Dreamers, Gene & Eunice, T-Bone Walker, and the Joe Houston band. The show mc'ed by Hunter Hancock is a sort of who's who of West coast R & B with the exception of The Dominoes. Syd Nathan continues to release records by the group recorded the year before : Federal #12209 - "Can't Do Sixty No More" / "If I Never Get To Heaven" in March, Federal #12218 - "Love Me Now Or Let Me Go" / "Caveman" in April and King #1492 - "Learning The Blues" and "May I Never Love Again" in July. In August a new Jubilee side is released - #5213 - "Sweethearts On Parade" and "Take Me Back To Heaven". In late August the group is in L.A. for a number of local television appearances. In September King #1502 - "Give Me You" / "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" is issued. These set of circumstances must have certainly been somewhat confusing to fans of the group, as there were recordings on three different labels being issued almost simultaneously. The scene would get more muddled as they leave a rather unsuccessful stop at Jubilee Records and move to Decca early the following year.
The Dominoes are not heard from until mid spring when still another Federal release is issued - #12263 - "Bobby Sox Baby" and How Long How Long Blues". Soon after, their first record for Decca is released - #29933 - "St. Theresa Of The Roses" and "Home Is Where You Hang Your Heart". After a period of time with little success, "St. Theresa" does well for the group. It gets into the top twenty pop music best sellers and is a national hit for the group. It is a Decca best buy and a big seller in the Mid Eastern region. Nothing much else goes right for the Dominoes on Decca and soon they end their short stay with the label early the following year and sign on with Liberty Records in Los Angeles. Two further Decca records come out in late 1956 - #30043 - "Will You Remember" and #30149 - "Evermore" / "Half A Love". At this time Jackie Wilson decides to go it alone as a solo act and the search is on for a new lead singer for the group. The voice they found belonged to Eugene Mumford, former lead singer for The Larks (the original group) on Apollo. Mumford's recent record was with a group calleed The Serenaders (one of many using that name) for the Old Town subsidiary label Whiz Records. The tunes were "When You're Smiling" and "Please Give Me One More Chance" on #1500. One situation had not changed for the group - they had records released by three different labels. Now they were on Decca, Liberty, and old standby Federal who continued to unshelve recording sessions from two years before.
With the first release on Liberty, The Dominoes had been re-invented, this time as a full fledged pop music entity with full orchestral arrangements and all of the mainstream trappings - a far cry from the days of the Clyde McPhatter led group. Liberty #55071 - "Stardust" took the creativity of the R & B vocal group to a point which has never been equaled. The record was a tour-de-force for Mumford and it is only appropriate that it is done performing the tune that has been often called America's greatest written pop music work. The seldom heard scene setting introduction written by Hoagy Carmichael is a perfect prelude as performed by Mumford and then cascades through a dramatic string passage to the main body which shows the groups R & B roots (although certainly understated) with its accented beat. The record was a sensation giving Ward and his group the biggest selling hit record of their entire career going high on both the national pop and R & B charts. The Dominoes worked the successful formula again later that year with Liberty #55099 on "Deep Purple" A symphonic opening leading to the explosive music of the strings serve as an opening theme for another superb Mumford effort. The background voices are much more evident in this classic and the ending is worthy of this wonderful tune. Once again the record buying public responded giving the group a second straight national pop music smash. These two efforts by The Dominoes seem to be right in synch with the changes in the sound of American pop music as much of the raucous energy of the R & B years was being musically diffused by arrangers and record company producers for the major labels resulting in a more mellow and mainstream sound.
The old R & B roots of the group were still there as Federal Records released two sides during the year - #12301 - "One Moment With You" and #12308 - "Have Mercy Baby" / "Love Love Love" (two previously released titles from 1952). Decca also chimed in with #30199 - "Till Kingdom Come", #30420 - "I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You" / "To Each His Own", and #30514 - "September Song" / "When The Saints Go Marching In". The final Liberty record of 1957 was #55111 - "My Proudest Possession" and "Someone Greater Than I". The Dominoes were now a recognized pop music act, and their appeal was to an older audience rather than the teenagers of the rock 'n' roll generation. By now they were mostly unknown by the younger fans attuned to the teen idol school of rock and Billy Ward planned accordingly. They played smart supper clubs and hotel rooms now, especially in the well known resorts and the show rooms of Las Vegas.
In the year 1958, The Dominoes stayed with their formula for success from the previous year. However Liberty #55126 - "Solitude" / "Sweeter As The Years Go By", and #55136 - "Music Maestro Please" were flops. The flip side of "Maestro" called "Jennie Lee" (the Jan & Arnie [pre Jan & Dean] hit) had a short stay in the top one hundred. By now Eugene Mumford had left the group to pursue a solo career with Liberty, and the group had one more release for them - #55181 - "Please Say No To Him". The new lead singer for the group was Monroe Powell. Rob Robinson was the tenor, and Milton Merle and Cliff Givens were still with the group as was of course, Billy Ward. In April of 1959 the group began a six week engagement at the Golden Hotel in Reno, Nevada. The hit making days were over for the group, and they released a few records into the early sixties on ABC, and King Records continued to churn out previously recorded songs, reissues, and unreleased material well into the mid sixties.
For close to a decade The Dominoes had been at the forefront of the changing of the guard in American music. For a few of those years they had been one of the top acts in the country, a unit whose in person shows drew huge crowds and near hysterical following. This one vocal group produced three of the greatest lead singers ever, the first two (McPhatter and Wilson) went on to have monumental solo careers after their days as a member of The Dominoes and in McPhatter's case The Drifters, were over. Through it all was the leadership of Billy Ward, who rarely sang or played piano with the group, but his writing, arranging, planning, and managerial skills headed the unit to unimagined fame and musical history. The history of American music that The Dominoes played such a part in at the mid point of the century, carries on today as we enter the new millennium. That's the REAL Domino Theory.
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